Sunday, November 13, 2005

Back to the Issue of Voting Trends: Realignment Time?

I've noticed a fair amount of on-line buzz about the possibility of a historic realignment among voters in the upcoming election cycles. The basic premise is that Democrats and progressives should respond to the increasing disaffection with the Bush Administration. Part of this is simply stressing that Bush is a Republican and that his corruption and bad governance are facilitated by a Republican-controlled Congress.

More deeply, the realignment talk puts us squarely back into the terrain of ambivalent_maybe's lengthy posts of a few weeks back on U.S. voting trends. For an interesting perspective, scroll down the Democrats sub-section of the blog to see Scott Shields's article, "Cracking the Conservative Base," which itself links to an article in a conservative magazine that is worried about just that possibility.

Two segments of the Pew Center's political typology of particular interest to Shields and the conservatives he quotes are the Social Conservatives and Pro-Government Conservatives. According to the excerpt from the conservative magazine quoted on that blog, the Republican Party is "dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement." Since I happen to think those ideas are good, not bad, I am heartened by the possibility of a large segment of Republican base that may be more ready to switch voting allegiance.

Also, as a committed Christian, I am perhaps more optimistic than might be some more secular progressives about the possibility of winning over working-class Christian voters with appeals to economic and social justice. To be sure, there are some social conservatives whose strong interest in what to me are scapegoating moral issues such as abortion and gay rights will keep them wary of any realignment in voting behavior. However, I believe there are also some who would participate in a re-energized progressive politics around issues relating to, for example, protecting our children against the forces of corporate commercialization, or making sure that we can provide for health care and disaster relief for poor and working-class people.

The main caution I have about all this relignment talk is that the success of the Democratic Party in elections not be conflated with good policy. If Democrats try to appeal to social conservatives by rushing to the perceived center on various issues, they will never be able to win over the hard-core anti-abortion and anti-gay crowd (to whom the Republicans can seemingly always out-pander) and may once again in DLC-style adopt "centrist" pro-business positions on economic issues that will virtually guarantee that disaffected Republican voters either not vote at all or keep voting GOP. The promise of a politics of realignment should lie in articulating a core of progressive policy ideals, such as those that guided the Democratic Party starting with FDR, and can thus potentially hold allegiance for decades, not just one election cycle. Moreover, for someone like me who is sympathetic to "third party" (Green, etc.) arguments and positions, it is important that any relignment bring into power a progressively-energized Democratic Party, not simply a cautious imitation of the Republicans that will give in to the status quo as far as how corporate interests influence American politics--as we saw during the Clinton years. Let us pursue a realignment that is both robust over time and visionary-progressive in its substance.

1 comment:

Tess said...

"The main caution I have about all this relignment talk is that the success of the Democratic Party in elections not be conflated with good policy."

Good point. The important thing is not just winning elections--but winning elections so that we can create a just and caring society.